6 Alternatives To Squats And Lunges For Bad Knees

We all know the squat is one of the best compound lifts that you can do. Furthermore, lunges are a core part of leg training and balance. But, unfortunately, some of us have bad knees. (I feel you, I used to wrestle) So, what are some alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees?

In this post, we are going to discuss alternatives that work ALL of the muscles the squat or lunge does, without having to do the squat or lunge. This means you’ll be able to get roughly the same muscular development, without the pain.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels, Let's discuss some alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels, Let’s discuss some alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.

Are There Alternatives To Squats And Lunges For Bad Knees?

Yes, there are alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.

I always get knee pain when I’m squatting and lunging. I hate it!

Ian Mceachran

I used to be in the same spot as you. My bad squat form, years of martial arts/wrestling, and years of biking/running nearly daily- my knees are shot.

Simply put, what’s the point in doing squats and lunges every day if your knees are shot? The truth is, there’s no reason to be putting yourself in immense pain if you’re a bodybuilder. That will just make the sport less fun and annoying.

The key to bodybuilding is consistency. And perhaps dirty bulking if you’re really into the sport.

But, ultimately, if you have to do squats that put you in agonizing pain, it’s no fun. Thankfully, there are alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.

#1 – Reverse Lunges

It might actually sound really weird, but reverse lunges are a great alternative to squatting and/or normal lunges.

If you get up and do a reverse lunge right now, you will feel how much easier it is on your knees.

Reverse lunges help you do proper form, way easier. Truthfully, it’s super confusing how to do a proper lunge, and learning how to engage your posterior chain and fire through your heels is incredibly complicated.

In fact, I still mess up lunges today, it’s just one of the harder exercises to do.

Thankfully, reverse lunges not only make it easier on your muscles but put you in a better spot that won’t likely injure you if you fail the rep.

With a reverse lunge you have way more control of what’s going on, you feel safer, and if you do fail, you won’t end up launching backwards and hitting your head. You’ll have your hands to save you.

#2 – Glute Bridges

When it comes to the gym, the primary reason you’ll find yourself squatting or lunging is because it works out the glutes better than other exercises. Simply put, the quadriceps extension machine and hamstring curl do a far superior job in working out those muscles.

But, there isn’t really a good glute exercise machine.

So, a GREAT way to workout the glutes is well, as it says in the name, glute bridges. Glute bridges are an incredible way to work your glutes out without dealing with your knee pain.

Here’s a demonstration of a glute bridge.

#3 – Donkey Kicks

Donkey kicks are a fantastic way to work out your glutes and hamstrings without having to deal with knee pain.

Plus, donkey kicks are great with a partner if they can add weight. This means you can successfully use progressive overload (the second golden rule of bodybuilding) and grow a TON of muscle with this exercise.

The way this would work is as you lift your foot up in the air, they place weight onto your foot you will lift up. This not only works your balance, but puts INCREDIBLE strain on your hamstrings, glutes, and stabilizer muscles.

Donkey kicks involve you bending over, raising your leg behind you, and kind of ‘kicking’ upwards. It’s not a complete kick or anything like that (please don’t kick your partner) but this video demonstrating it will explain everything!

This exercise can be tough to perform, so I recommend you practice without weight for a little bit. Regardless, this is one of the best alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.

#4 – STRICT Good Mornings

Good mornings are one of the oldest bodybuilding moves around. They are a key in all old-school bodybuilding programs, like Arnold’s Blueprint to Mass, for good reason.

However, what most people don’t realize, is that good mornings with STRICT form are great alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.

A huge muscle group squats work that most people don’t realize is the entire lower back. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important exercises just because of how hard your lower back gets taxed.

Honestly, a lot of people find themselves having problems squatting due to having a weak lower back. And frankly, I can’t blame them- working your lower back is way easier said than done.

As aforementioned, there isn’t a great way to work your lower back without squats. So, good mornings are going to give us that incredible muscle growth that is critical in many big lifts (including the bench press) and this means you won’t have a huge muscular imbalance.

Here is a video on how to do good mornings!

#5 – Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts are a strange, but one of the best alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.

Simply put, the deadlift works every muscle in your body. Using the Romanian deadlift variation, you can reduce the knee extension while still keeping roughly the same muscle activation throughout the entire body.

Many other articles on the internet suggest normal deadlifts but I just found those to aggravate the knees more. Doing Romanian deadlifts properly should not come with any knee pain. Furthermore, this will ensure your: hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves are all being worked.

You can still get a compound exercise in, without dealing with a ton of pain!

Here’s a video demonstrating it:

#6 – Single Legged Deadlifts

Singled legged deadlifts can have a ton of different meanings. So I found a variation of it that is one of the best alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees.

The variation I am describing is a way for you to do deadlifts that emphasizes the hamstring and balance development while involving basically no knee rotation.

So…basically a great exercise with no knee pain, sounds good! Here’s a version of it I highly recommend you try.

Conclusion of The Best Alternatives To Squats and Lunges For Bad Knees

Overall, our emphasis was working out every single muscle group that the squat does- without having to do the squat. Hopefully, all of these alternatives to squats and lunges for bad knees helps you out in the gym.

So get out there, and let’s get BIG!

*This article was written by a contributing author, Chaz Vevea.

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